A Ti leaf curls under, as though bowing from shyness in the presence of majestic roses and voluptuous peonies. In the same arrangement, green flax reaches above the blooms, gently waving. The artistic addition of leaves, grasses, and other unexpected greens, along with mosses, or birch bark, or twigs, can turn the loving sentiment of a bouquet into an entire narrative. A bunch of long-stemmed flowers in a glass vase is a thing of beauty for sure, yet a grouping of exotic botanicals entwined from one vase to another creates a landscape of beauty. For this Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s time to think outside the box: the long white box containing a dozen roses, that is.
Nothing is quite so romantic as flowers, so why not personalize the presentation? As by-the-book florists have evolved into floral designers—at their best, floral designers are artists whose medium is plants—so too, has the traditional gift of love expanded from roses offset by baby’s breath to an exploding fantasia of floral choices.
The alternatives are surprisingly varied—one candidate is a stalk of architecturally striking, ruby-red ginger blossoms—but most of the newer thinking about flower presentation isn’t just about replacing roses, but augmenting them, complementing them, or artistically mixing it up with them.
“Valentine’s is in winter and peonies are romantic winter flowers,” says Martin Dodge, owner of Drops-of-Jupiter floral studio, when asked for a variation on the traditional. “They start out round and open up into a huge beautiful flower.”
Dodge likes to think seasonally, and so, in a different way, does On Thai, of Surroundings Studio in Schenectady, who, for something different, recommends tropical flora such as Bird of Paradise, because “it makes you think of a hot climate in winter time.” A favorite of both designers is anthurium, heart-shaped tropical flowers with “tails” in the middle and striking intensities of color ranging from hot pink to fire-engine red.
A self-taught designer whose work in Los Angeles included events for Heidi Klum, Ashlee Simpson, and Simon Cowell, Dodge is known for the uniqueness of his arrangements, which can incorporate feather or branches (pictured). He admits that for Valentine’s, he’s doing a lot with roses, preferring large, lush varieties, and reflexing the petals, a method he says, that can make a rose “look like an entirely different flower.”
Thai, like Dodge, isn’t disparaging the gift of roses—“roses never go out of style, they are the all-American classic”—yet he also likes to mix them, with hydrangea or tulips. The formally trained designer also suggests calla lilies for their “romantic look” Aside from the pure-white ones, modern varieties of callas now come in ruby red and powder pink, along with an ethereal cream with blush-pink petal edges and a deliciously impure shade of purplish black. “To give someone calla lilies is like giving them a diamond,” says Thai.
Dodge, who returned to the Capital Region three years to open his own shop, adds distinction to his creations with nature-inspired arrangements. “I love leaves,” says the resident of Poestenkill. “There are so many tropical leaves with unique colors and stripes. I like to line the inside of the vase and let them creep into the arrangement, or I fold them and manipulate them in creative ways.” Another of Dodge’s specialties is creating “environments” by transforming a room for a romantic occasion. These arrangements include swaths of fabric, candles, and sometimes tokens, from a box of chocolates to a ring. “I like creating a lush bed of flowers to nestle a bottle of wine,” he says, adding that of one of his most beautiful arrangements started with two tall cylinders, which he filled with branches of spring cherry blossoms and placed on night tables on either side of a bed, letting the arcing blossoms form a canopy.
For this Valentine’s Day, Dodge is being assisted by his cousin, Dan Bell, a gourmet baker and owner of David’s Fine Foods in Loudonville, where Dodge will be creating and selling arrangements up until Valentine’s evening (don’t be surprised to see gourmet cookies dangling from branches like snowdrops).
Of course, giving flowers needn’t be tied to a special day or occasion. When asked to describe the romantic appeal of flowers, Dodge answers with this quote from Goethe: “A flower is a leaf mad with love.”